The Four Sisters


Marie Fenaroli Delgrosso

( see photo right, Antonietta, Gina, Delina, Tina)

Beginning with the oldest, my mother and her three sisters came to America in the order of their birth. My Mom was the third and was lucky she was not the first. She had a place to go as the first sister had to pave the way. They all lived together in an apartment in Manhattan, working five and a half days a week and spent the remaining day and a half cleaning and getting their laundry done for the next work week. Their social life, after attending mass, was strolling on the 59th street bridge meeting with their fellow countrymen and exchanging a few words, but not too many with the men for fear that they would be labeled "loose women". Against all odds, they married fellow countrymen and parted to live with their husbands and raise a family.

Their parting was only temporary, as my mother and #2 sister purchased a small four family house in Astoria. They wanted to raise their families on the "island" to get away from the big city. Each sister had their own tiny apartment and so began our wonderful childhood for my seven cousins and me.

We were not perfect children and of course got into many scraps. When this happened, each mother would spank their respective children and we were confined to our apartments with the doors closed. After about an hour, witch felt like days, the door opened and we were all together again forgetting what the fight was about. Of course the older ones were at school or work, while the younger ones were mostly at home doing their homework. I was the youngest of eight and a girl so needless to say, I had a lot of privileges denied my older boy cousins.

On a Saturday morning, during the summer, we would all go on outings to Coney Island loaded with suitcases of food. God forbid we would be hungry. We rode the "EL" from Ditmars station and picked up friends and relatives along the way who still lived in Manhattan. Our party usually ended up with about twenty-five people before we hit the sea and sand. These outings were always happy times enjoyed by the young and old.

The four sisters each had a job to do when we reached the beach and they took their tasks seriously. After a lunch of sandwiches, ethnic food, and fruit shared by everyone, we were not allowed in the water for about an hour and woe to the child that did not abide by the rules. Each sister made sure their children were never out of sight, especially in the water.

My oldest Aunt Gina was mother to all and if I had a problem with my Mom, ", that she coiled not understand, I would go crying to her lamenting the cruelty I had to endure. She would cradle me in her arms and her warm voice and beautiful smile would make you forget whatever the problem was all about.

Next in line was my Aunt Antonietta, who was the bravest and creative of the lot and of course the leader of the pack. She could do anything, from home repairs to sewing a beautiful dress. A great lady in her own right.

My Mom was the third in line and the most sophisticated and American. She loved the movies eating out and beautiful clothes. My outfits were always chosen with impeccable taste, and the envy unfortunately of my girlfriends who were not so lucky. I tried very hard not to arouse their jealousy as their friendships meant a lot to me.

Last my Aunt Tina was my least favorite. I always felt she waist competition with my pretty Mom and her sweet personality. I felt that resentment and at times made me very uncomfortable. All in all I loved the four of them as well as my cousins. The love in that little house was very apparent.

One summer, my Aunt Antonietta deeded we should up our status and rent a bungalow in the fashionable Rockaways, which at the time was considered the American Riviera. The mothers were all working, except for Aunt Antonietta, whose husband owned a restaurant in New Jersey and was very revered by the family. She became the house mother for the three youngest ones ranging from ages ages 8-12, including me. We rented a beautiful one family home with a living and dining room and four bedrooms up stairs - a luxury we did not have in the four family house. When the whole family converged on the house on weekends, I'm sure the landlord felt she had made a big mistake and come September, the house would be in shambles. What she didn't realize, she had rented to the four sisters with strict rules and regulations. We were never allowed in the living room and dining room except on weekends when the men folks and older working children came to spend the weekend at the beach. Needless to say the house was returned in September in better condition than we rented it, much to the amazement of the landlord.

During the week, Aunt Antonietta was in total charge of the three of us. Her son Arthur, nephew John and niece Marie (me). Each day we would rise early, do our chores, and by 1PM we were off to the salt water and sunshine, which they felt were necessary for good health. We were never allowed to go to the beach without her, and when one of us got sick, we all stayed home. There were times we prayed for illness or rain, to break up the routine of "the life giving beach". The frugal hard working sisters believed renting a bungalow; one has to get your monies worth. Sometimes we would walk through Playland and play a few games with monies our parents left us. Then home to bed.

Saturday and Sunday were the highlights of the week. All the working mothers, children and men folk would come and we would feast all day Sunday. After mass, my cousin Rita was in charge of buying bread and rolls at the local bakery. We would come home loaded and many were the times the shop keeper would ask "How many people are in your family?" After Sunday dinner, the adults full of good food and wine would start singing in harmony their mountain songs from northern Italy. It was like being in church with a choir. The sounds were hauntingly beautiful and peaceful and many times lulled me to sleep. Then off to the beach with a group as the sisters washed dishes and cleaned up the sacred dining room. Upon our return we would all shower in an outdoor facility so as not to track in sand and mess the two interior bathrooms. Then after a late supper, it was back to the boardwalk and salt air to digest and get ready for bed. Come Monday morning, the work crew was back to work in the city and we continued our daily routine. We did this for about three summers and enjoyed evert bit of it.

As we got older and more affluent, the bog four decided we needed a phone in the house. It was to be placed in the hallway on a table nearest to my Mom's apartment. When the phone rang and my Mom answered it, she called the name of the person it was for. My older cousins were dating at the time, and it was our pleasure to listen in on their calls. Needless to say, they had little privacy and we loved teasing them about it. We were all aware of the romances taking place in the house.

Come the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and again we were all together. Most of the men folk were unable to celebrate with us, as they were all working in the fine French restaurants of New York City. This was their busy season and they took it quite seriously. They were all successful chefs.

Now that I myself am an old woman, I look back on these happy memorable days and thank God everyday that I was blessed with the four sisters.

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Bon Voyage...........